Unity as Witness and Worship

“May the God of endurance and encouragement grant you to live in such harmony with one another, in accord with Christ Jesus, that together you may with one voice glorify the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ. Therefore welcome one another as Christ has welcomed you, for the glory of God” (Romans 15:5–7 ESV).

Live in Harmony with One Another

Harmony is a great word, isn’t it? Who doesn’t love harmony? In music, it’s a function of complementary notes to the melody. To our ear, a really tight harmony sounds beautiful. People spend a lot of money on concert tickets and music in order to hear really tight harmonies.

Ever hear bad harmony? If not, come stand next to me during our singing on a Sunday morning. I like to try to sing harmony but I’m not very good at it. About every third note is right and the rest of the time I’m searching for it. Anybody married to someone like that? It can make worship difficult. Bad harmony is when the notes aren’t getting along. There’s dissonance. It sounds terrible.

Obviously, these verses are not talking about the music in the choir but the relationships in the church. In the Greek it is a thinking word. Live with a mindset of closeness with one another. It’s likely not a coincidence that the word used is thinking, not so much feeling. How does harmony in marriage go when harmony is based on feelings? Not well. At least, not for long. In church life, if my unity with other Christians is feelings-based, it won’t last long. What is the basis of our unity? It is creedal and spiritual. It is the gospel and our spiritual unity in and through Christ.

Christian unity isn’t something we create. We are unified in Jesus. We are baptized all into one body by the Holy Spirit. Our call is less to make unity as to display unity. What’s a good word for what that looks like? Harmony.

“…to live in such harmony with one another…” (Romans 15:5) Please note, Paul doesn’t tell them to agree on everything! It’s a whole chapter about things not agreed on. He could have said, and once you achieve unanimous opinion in all things, live in harmony with one another. But he didn’t. Christian unity is a testimony to the world because it is unity across disagreements, despite disagreements.

“…does not mean that they should all come to the same conclusion. That is obvious from his discussion of the weak and the strong – the conscience of each is to guide the conduct of that person. It is unity of perspective that is desired. And that perspective is that of Christ Jesus, our model for Christian conduct. Think as he does. Take on his values and priorities. As each member of the church draws closer to Christ, we will at the same time draw closer to other members of the body. The experience of Christian unity produces a symphony of praise to God in which each voice blends with all the others to the glory of God” (Mounce).[1]

So, here’s the question, can you love and serve alongside someone who doesn’t agree with you? Most people would say that depends. Are we talking about preferences? Are we talking about politics? Are we talking about essential oils?

What is Paul talking about? Look at verse 7, “Therefore welcome one another as Christ has welcomed you, for the glory of God” (Romans 15:7). What is required for God to fellowship with a sinner? We must repent of our sins and turn in faith to Jesus as our Savior and Lord for forgiveness of sins and eternal life. When the worst sinner trusts in Jesus, Jesus welcomes him into his heart. Are there significant differences between Jesus and the sinner? More than we can imagine. But Jesus’ arms are wide open to people of every preference, ethnicity, tradition, and sinners of every kind and struggle: the liar, the thief, the adulterer, the murderer, and all the rest. Acceptance doesn’t require agreement.

Scripture quotations are taken from The Holy Bible, English Standard Version. ESV® Permanent Text Edition® (2016). Copyright © 2001 by Crossway Bibles, a publishing ministry of Good News Publishers.

© 2020 by Steve DeWitt. You are permitted and encouraged to reproduce and distribute this material in any format provided that: (1) you credit the author, (2) any modifications are clearly marked, (3) you do not charge a fee beyond the cost of reproduction, (4) you include Bethel’s website address (www.bethelweb.org) on the copied resource.

[1] Robert H. Mounce, The New American Commentary: Romans (Nashville: Broadman & Holman, 1995), 260.

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